In Brief

Sizing Things Up

Sizing things upChildren begin to seek evidence that enables them to test fishy-sounding claims in early elementary school, suggests a study in Developmental Psychology. Researchers showed 191 Chinese preschool- and elementary-school-age children (ages 3 to 8) several different-size Russian nesting dolls and asked the children which doll was heaviest. Nearly all the children chose the biggest doll. Next, an adult experimenter told half the children that the smallest doll was the heaviest (a counterintuitive claim) and told the other half that the biggest doll was the heaviest. When the experimenter left the room, elementary-school-age children who heard the counterintuitive claim (smallest=heaviest) explored the dolls more than those who heard the intuitive one (biggest=heaviest). Among preschoolers, however, the amount of exploration did not differ between the two groups. DOI: 10.1037/dev0000455

Is everyone else having more fun?

Is everyone else having more fun?Most people think that their own social lives are lacking compared with other people’s social lives, finds a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In 11 experiments, researchers surveyed nearly 3,300 participants across a variety of U.S. demographic groups and settings, including college students, shoppers at a mall and online respondents. In each experiment, most participants believed that people they knew attended more parties, dined out more, had more friends and otherwise had more active social lives than they did. Among college students, 82 percent said they went to fewer parties than other people they knew, while only 6 percent of college students believed they went to more parties than their peers. Sixty-four percent believed they had fewer friends than other people they knew; only 9 percent believed they had more. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000105

Client testimonials

More than 5 percent of psychologists’ websites in Canada include, solicit or link to client testimonials, even though the Canadian Psychological Association’s guidelines prohibit such testimonials, finds a study in Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne. (APA’s Ethics Code, in contrast, only prohibits testimonials from current clients or others who are vulnerable to undue influence.) Researchers examined the professional websites of 433 randomly selected practicing psychologists in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Of those, 4.2 percent included client testimonials, 1.2 percent explicitly solicited testimonials and 1.4 percent included links to external websites such as Yelp that include testimonials. Also, 38.9 percent of the testimonials contained potentially identifying information, such as first names, initials or ages. DOI: 10.1037/cap0000123

Exercise your brain

Exercise your brainExercise may help preserve memory and other functions as we age by slowing deterioration of the left hippocampus, finds a meta-analysis in NeuroImage. Researchers reviewed the brain scans of 737 people (average age 66) who took part in 14 clinical trials exploring the effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume. Participants included healthy adults with mild cognitive impairment and adults with mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia. Overall, exercise was associated with maintenance of the volume of the left hippocampus, which is involved in memory and other functions, though it was not associated with overall hippocampal volume. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.11.007

Self-harm increase

The number of girls and young women who end up in the emergency room for self-inflicted injuries, including suicide attempts, has increased, finds a report in JAMA. Researchers analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on emergency room (ER) visits by preteens, teens and young adults ages 10 to 24. Visits for self-inflicted injuries rose an average of 8.4 percent per year between 2009 and 2015 among girls and young women. The rise was steepest for girls ages 10 to 14, whose ER visits rose by 19 percent per year. The number of self-injury ER visits for boys and young men remained stable during that time. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2017.13317

Thanks for the help

People often appreciate help, but it can bring negative consequences. Those who receive help may feel guilty about it, their self-esteem may decrease and they may resent the helper. Now, a study in Emotion finds that the hormone oxytocin may make people feel better about receiving help from others. Researchers asked 118 participants to complete a computer task. Beforehand, half were given a dose of oxytocin nasal spray, the other half a placebo spray. Then, partway through the task, the participants’ computers “broke.” For half the participants, a confederate posing as another participant offered to fix the broken computer and restored it to working order. For the other half, the confederate did not notice the problem or offer to help. Afterward, the participant and confederate worked on a different task together while observers watched them interact. When placebo participants were surveyed later about the experience, those who had received help reported significantly more negative feelings overall, and about the confederate specifically, than those who had not received help. But among participants who received oxytocin, there was no significant difference between the groups. The observers also rated participants who had received the oxytocin as expressing more happiness and gratitude for the help than those who had received the placebo. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000369

What's in a wife's name?

When a woman keeps her surname after marriage, it may affect other people’s perceptions of her spouse, finds research in Sex Roles. In three experiments involving a total of 355 people—undergraduates in the United States and a community sample in the United Kingdom—participants described husbands whose wives kept their names as having more stereotypically feminine traits and used more words such as “caring,” “understanding,” “timid” and “submissive” to describe them. The researchers also found that participants with traditional/sexist beliefs about gender roles were more likely to perceive a man as disempowered if his wife kept her surname. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-017-0856-6

Vocalizing emotion

Vocalizing emotionListeners can recognize emotions such as sadness and joy in singers’ voices, even absent linguistic and melodic cues, finds research in Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. Researchers asked eight opera singers to sing the standard musical scale with the meaningless words “ne kal ibam soud molen,” and to try to convey one of nine emotions through their voices: anger, despair, fear, joy, love, pride, sadness, serenity and tenderness. Later, the researchers played those recordings for an international sample of 500 listeners that included respondents from New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. Overall, listeners identified the intended emotion 33 percent of the time—significantly better than chance (11.1 percent). However, some emotions were more universally recognized than others. Participants from all countries recognized anger, fear, joy, pride, sadness and tenderness with better-than-chance accuracy, but not contempt, love and serenity. DOI: 10.1037/pmu0000193

Intergenerational trauma

Children of war refugees may suffer from the effects of their parents’ trauma.

Women may pass the effects of childhood trauma on to their daughters, suggests research in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers studied the medical records of more than 46,000 Finnish people born from 1933 to 1944, and 93,000 of their children. During World War II, thousands of Finnish children were sent to live with foster families in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Previous research had found that the children who were sent away had worse physical and mental health outcomes as adults than did those who stayed. One study found that women who were evacuated were more likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder as adults than their siblings who had stayed with their families. The new study found that the daughters of the refugee women were also at elevated risk: They were four times more likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder than the daughters of mothers who had stayed. The evacuees’ sons, however, did not have any elevated risk. The researchers caution that the study does not address whether the mothers pass down the risk through parenting behavior, epigenetic changes or other factors. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.3511

Diversity in the classroom

College instructors in science and math who value multiculturalism are more likely to use inclusive teaching practices than those who value “colorblindness,” finds a study in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Researchers surveyed 628 college instructors who participated in a training program about inclusive teaching practices that focused on engaging women and ethnic-minority students in science and math classes. On average, participants used more inclusive teaching practices after the training session than they had before it. However, teachers who believed in a colorblind ideology (reducing bias by downplaying differences) were less likely to adopt inclusive practices than those who believed in a multicultural ideology that embraced differences. DOI: 10.1037/dhe0000026

Curves or corners?

Curves or corners?People tend to prefer curved objects over straight-edged ones, finds a study in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, a preference that appears consistent across cultures. Researchers asked 56 participants (20 Spanish, 23 indigenous Mexican and 13 Ghanaian) to view pairs of images on a computer screen and press a button to select one. The images were similar except for their shape, such as a round glass jar and a square one. Across all three cultures, participants chose the rounded, curved objects over the square, straight-edged ones in 55 to 59 percent of trials—significantly more often than chance. DOI: 10.1037/aca0000135

Post-NICU stress

Fathers may be more stressed than mothers after taking their premature infants home after long stays in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), suggests a study in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing. Researchers measured the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of 86 parents of very-low-birth-weight babies, beginning the day before the infants were released from a Chicago NICU and continuing for two weeks after. Both mothers’ and fathers’ cortisol levels spiked after leaving the NICU, but the fathers’ continued to rise over the next two weeks, as the mothers’ returned to their original levels. The researcher also found that the mothers’ cortisol levels correlated with their self-reported stress levels, but the fathers’ levels did not, suggesting that the fathers may have been unaware of how stressed they were. DOI: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000296

Dementia in urban and rural America

Dementia in urban and rural AmericaOlder adults who live in rural areas have higher rates of dementia and cognitive impairment than those who live in cities, but the gap has narrowed, finds research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from about 16,000 Americans over age 55 who completed a telephone-based assessment of cognitive abilities in 2000, and another group of about 16,000 who did the same assessment in 2010. In 2000, 7.1 percent of rural residents and 5.4 percent of urban residents had dementia, while 19.8 percent of rural residents and 15.9 percent of urban residents had cognitive impairment without dementia (CIND). Ten years later, dementia and cognitive impairment rates had declined across the board, and the gap between rural and urban residents had shrunk (5.1 percent of rural residents and 4.4 percent of urban residents had dementia; 16.5 percent of rural residents and 14.9 percent of urban residents had CIND). This may be due to people of more recent generations receiving more education, which correlates with reduced dementia risk later in life, research has found. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.10.021

Alzheimer's numbers

The absolute number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease could more than double from 6 million today to 15 million by 2060, according to a study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. To calculate the projected increase, researchers used a model that blended an estimate of how many Americans currently have preclinical Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment with projections of U.S. population growth that take into account the fact that older adults are a growing share of the population. According to the researchers, the model highlights the need to develop new methods to detect Alzheimer’s early and to slow or stop the progression of the disease. DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.10.009

Cold weather, cold personality

Cold weather, cold personalityThe temperature of the region that you grow up in could influence your personality, suggests a study in Nature Human Behaviour. Researchers analyzed data on more than 5,500 Chinese students and more than 1.6 million Americans who responded to an online survey. Participants indicated where they grew up (by city in the case of the Chinese students and by ZIP code for the American participants), and took a personality inventory that measured the Big Five personality traits. On average, participants who grew up in areas with more pleasant temperatures—closer to 72 degrees Fahrenheit—scored higher on measures of agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability, as well as extroversion and openness to experience, than people who grew up in colder or hotter places. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0240-0

No, period

Punctuation in text messages conveys some of the extra-linguistic information that tone of voice and other cues offer in face-to-face or phone conversations, suggests a study in Computers in Human Behavior. Researchers asked 137 undergraduate participants to read text conversations that consisted of an invitation (“I got a new dog. Wanna come over?”) and a one-word response, either positive (“yeah,” “yup”), negative (“no,” “nope”) or ambiguous (“maybe”). When the one-word response included a period at the end, participants saw it as more negative, less enthusiastic and more abrupt than the same response without a period. That finding suggests periods may often serve a rhetorical purpose in texts, rather than a grammatical one, the researchers say. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.10.044

Adult-infant bond

Adult-infant bondWhen babies and adults gaze at each other, their patterns of neural activity synchronize, finds research in PNAS. Researchers used EEG to monitor the brain activity of both an infant and an adult as the baby watched the adult sing nursery rhymes. Sometimes the adult looked directly at the baby; other times she looked away. The study examined 19 babies, each interacting with the same adult. Previous research had found evidence of such synchrony when adults communicated with each other. This new research suggests that the infant-adult synchrony could help prepare caretakers and their babies to communicate. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1702493114

Autism and race disparities

Black parents may be less likely to report concerns about autism symptoms in their children than white parents are, which could partly explain why far fewer black children are diagnosed with autism, suggests a study in Autism that was conducted with families in Connecticut and Georgia. Researchers asked 174 parents of toddlers, 58 black and 116 white, to complete a free-response questionnaire in which they could list any concerns they had about their children’s development. The toddlers were prescreened and showed signs of autism risk, but they had not been formally diagnosed. The researchers later grouped the parents’ responses into 10 categories of concerns, some of which were autism-related (such as social-behavior problems and restricted/repetitive behavior) and some of which were nonautism-related (such as motor skill problems and disruptive behavior). Black parents reported significantly fewer autism-related concerns than white parents did, but just as many nonautism concerns. DOI: 10.1177/1362361317722030

Screen time perils

Teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.Teens who spend more than five hours a day on electronic devices are at greater risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, finds research in Clinical Psychological Science. Researchers analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. teens in grades eight through 12. Among the more than 500,000 young people surveyed, the researchers found that 48 percent of teens who spent five or more hours per day with computers, tablets or smartphones reported at least one suicide-related thought. In comparison, 28 percent of teens who spent only one hour per day with these devices reported such thoughts. More screen time also correlated with more symptoms of depression. DOI: 10.1177/2167702617723376

Opioid use runs in families

Opioid use runs in familiesPeople with family members who have been prescribed opioids are more likely to get opioid prescriptions themselves in the next year, finds research in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed records of commercial insurance claims from 13 million people who had received an opioid prescriptions and 6 million people who had received prescriptions for nonopioid painkillers between 2000 and 2014. The team found that the likelihood of someone getting a prescription for opioids was 0.71 percent higher when another household member had a previous opioid prescription than when a household member had a previous nonopioid painkiller prescription—a small but significant difference, especially since millions of opioid prescriptions are given out each year. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.7280

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